Friday, December 24, 2010

An imperfect Christmas

The day started with some whining, as it usually does, quieted by bacon on the stove and sugared cereal in their bowls. An hour later, we dropped off our 3-year-old twins and our 5-year-old boy at the daycare place in the gym. It was empty, as if we were the only parents audacious enough to do such a thing on Christmas Eve.
When we got home, there was one fit, then another, and then I burned the queso a bit as I fixed it for tonight's taco dinner at Kate's parents.
The kids took forever to get their shoes on, as they usually do, and halfway through the slog down the Interstate, the girls had to pee, which forced me to stop at a packed gas station full of chain stores, impatient shoppers and barely enough concrete to cover it all. A sign barred me from making the easy left turn back on the highway.
As we pulled in, a horribly cheesy song played on the radio. What happened to Jingle Bells, I mumbled. It was 55 degrees outside and the grass was the color of graham crackers. A dusting earlier that week had melted into the cracks of the sidewalks and driveways.
I stubbed my toe on the porch as I struggled to get inside with the boxes full of stuff for all the kids. Toys from China, most of it.
Dinner was good. Mexican food for Christmas. My queso was a hit.
Paper flew everywhere a half-hour later. The kids attacked their gifts like a swarm of piranha on a caribou. My son complained that he didn't get as much as the girls. We assured him he did. He refused to believe us.
My present was thoughtful but possibly too small. A receipt is floating around somewhere, maybe.
On the way home, a twin screamed half the time, then fell asleep. She's still awake as Santa taps his foot.
It's not a Hallmark card. It's real. It's an imperfect Christmas. And those are the ones worth remembering.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The feeling sorry-a-go-round

One thing I've noticed as a poker player, a member of the workforce and, most of all, as a parent, is how easy it is to feel sorry for yourself.
It's something I constantly battle. I've done much better in the last couple of years. I'm a better poker player because I don't let suckouts bother me as much. I'm a better worker because I've accepted the fact that my boss is trying to get stories accomplished, not screw me over with a heavy load (EVERYONE has a heavy load in the newspaper business these days).
But I still struggle with it as a parent.
I struggle after weekends like the last, when everyone else was having fun out in Vegas and I was at home with three little ones. It seems like on weekends when I'm already internally bitching, mourning all the fun stuff and life experiences and friends I have to miss because I'm a parent, the kids act the worst. It's possible that my tolerance is lower at those points then it should be, but it's also possible that the kids were, at times, whiny, loud little brats who got us up at 6 a.m. Saturday AND Sunday.
When I tweeted something like, Toddlers: All the exhaustion of Vegas and none of the debauchery, I really meant it. It was an exhausting weekend, as it always is, and if you have the AUDACITY to go out with friends and get home at the late late late late late hour of, um, 11:30 p.m., there's no recovering from it because sure enough, here come the kids at 6 a.m.
Never mind that getting them up at 6:30 a.m. on some weekdays is like trying to rouse a bear from hibernation and getting nearly the same reaction once they are sort of awake.
I have reminded myself over and over that I wanted to be a parent. But the feeling sorry still comes from the fact that the twins were not planned, they were a surprise, and this surprise was a life-changing doozy, the kind that happens after, say, you catch your hand in a garbage disposal. Yes, it's better than it was, but it's still hard, almost impossibly hard at times, the kind of hard that comes when you're on mile 23 of a marathon, only for us, it's almost every day.
The other issue, of course, is feeling sorry is catching. You've seen it as a poker player: Opponents whine about catching second bests, about not catching at all or about other players catching against them. It's easy, probably too easy, to fall into that line of thinking, that the world must be against you, or at least the poker Gods, if you don't hit with A-K every time and if someone's 37 percenter does hit.
Therefore, it's easy, probably too easy, to whine right along with your spouse and begin to have contests about who has it worse, about who got up at night while the other cleaned the kitchen for the 37th time in a row.
I have done well at letting things go, but it's so easy to fall back into the pattern, like those who work hard to lose weight, then put it back on.
This is my struggle. It's a vice I just can't let go.
I'd prefer cheesecake and nachos.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Poker: Your Guide to Life

Poker is no longer an obsession. It's barely even a pastime any longer. It's just something I love to do.
I can't tell you how freeing that is.
There are many ways I love to pass the time, one of the sad and wonderful things about having children is it forces you to make severe choices about your life (and I know there are many other things that probably compare to children, such as a busy job, a demanding girlfriend or heavy drinking). Even when I was married, I didn't have such handcuffs. If I wanted to play video games, I could. If I wanted to climb mountains every weekend, I did. If I wanted to, say, play several hours of poker every night, I did.
In that glorious past, I had enough free time to do maybe two or three things every night. I could play two hours of poker, then watch a movie and maybe even read an hour before I went to bed. So because I run and hit the gym, which I'm going to do, now I'm lucky if I get to do one of those things every night if I still want my eight hours of sleep, which my lifestyle as a runner somewhat demands.
Well, a year ago, I took a hard look at what I was choosing to do with my time. And I didn't like it. I wasn't reading books any longer. I was barely watching movies. No, what I was doing was watching sports, playing video games and, of course, playing a lot of online poker.
None of that was making me a better writer, or even a better person. Online poker was almost boring, in fact, and if it wasn't for Omaha I would have yanked my money out of there already. Video games were extremely fun, but again, they're not helping me write. And I'm going to watch my Jayhawks.
So I quit the video games, and, one day, I decided not to play online poker. And then the next I didn't play, and then the next, and fairly soon, it was weeks without playing, and now it's been a few months.
And I don't miss it.
This is an incredibly long introduction to Sunday's trip to Black Hawk to play a long, extended session with one of my best friends. We'll call him "Donovan."
I remember voting for a measure that would increase the betting limits to $100 per bet in Colorado. Before the betting limits was $5, so the max any game could bet was $5, meaning they were the most donkey-filled games you could ever imagine and people were usually winning pots with 8-2 suited. You would basically get a hand, close your eyes and bet $5 to the river and hope you didn't get sucked out on. You've played 2-4 limit poker before. Yeah. It was like that.
Well, the measure was approved by voters two years ago, and I remember being really excited and thrilled that we would essentially have 1-2 NLHE in Colorado.
And I didn't make it up there. At all, in fact, until Sunday.
Having kids also means I've had to choose what days I take to do what I want, and training for a marathon last year (and something I'm doing again soon) meant not really getting a chance to take a full day to play poker without the threat of divorce.
(It also means taking one road trip a year, and helping some of my best friends do their first Ironman in Arizona was more important than going to Vegas for the WPBT. Sigh.)
So I was really excited at the chance to see Donovan, who had to move away for a job. But I also was excited to play poker again. It had been a while.
And now I had nothing to prove.
This is why approaching the game this way is incredibly freeing. I don't feel the need to build a bankroll (even when I still keep a little money set aside for poker) or make badass plays or go against the best players and BE CHAMPION OF THE WORLD one day.
I just think it's fun to play.
Given that, I brought $300 to Black Hawk and had no concerns if I lost it. It was entertainment, not a chance to make money.
That didn't mean I threw around money like candy at a parade. I quickly discerned at the table that the players were a little better than $5 poker but not much better, and so playing tight-agressive, with a bit more raising preflop to keep them unbalanced, was going to either earn me money or get me sucked out on.
I don't have many hands for you because, to be honest, I got my fair share of good ones, and I didn't get sucked out on. When that happens, you don't have to be good, you just have to be solid.
The hand that got me started on the right path, after about $50-$60 in losses in the first couple of hours, was QQ in early position. I had four callers of course to my $12 raise, and we saw a flop of J-3-8 rainbow. I'm first to act, and I check to see what others are going to do (it's a dry board). A guy on the button, a loose player who had just won a monster pot by cracking a player's AA with 5-2 sooted bet $30. It's folded back to me and I call. I check to him again on the J turn, because the pot's fairly large now and the J worries me a bit. He bets $50. I count out my chips. If I call it'll leave me with another $50. So it's shove or fold. The fact that another J comes means he may not have one. Plus I don't like the way he's staring me down. I shove and he insta-folds. I don't love the way I played the hand, but it did allow me to put pressure on him rather than me betting and him shoving on me and putting the pressure point on me. Anyway, that gets me past my $200 buy-in.
I had several huge hands, including winning a huge pot when I flopped a full house with 6-6 (the only hand the whole night I think I really slowplayed), but one other hand was really big, even if I think it played itself.
I have J-Q suited and I call a small raise to $7. So do five others, and the flop comes 8-9-10. Not bad. But there's two spades out there, and while I know this is not Omaha, I'm first to act and I don't want anyone drawing out on me, so I bet $30. The guy to my left raises me another $100, the maximum, remember, he can bet.
Predictably the other three fold, one of them mumbling about having to fold his flush draw, and it gets back to me.
Well, that's a nice pot, and I'm happy with it now, given the way the board looks. If he has a set I'm ahead, and if he has a flush draw I'm way ahead. I"m not fucking around, in other words, and I raise him back another $100. This leaves me $29 behind, but I have to follow the rules. He just calls.
OK, so an 8 falls on the turn. This does not make me happy, not in the least, but I'm obviously committed, so I put in my $29 and he calls and turns over....9-10. Whew. I essentially double up to $500.
When I'm up, I'm usually a lot more patient with my hands, and in the middle of the session several times I lay down top pair/good kicker to decent players in multi-multi-way pots. I'm almost always right, and even when I can't see if I am, I don't care. It costs me, at the most, $25 to lay a hand down, and I've already seen far too many people at our table blow their stacks with similar hands.
By the end of the night, the predictable douchebag sits at our table, which is another reason why I don't love poker as much as I once did. Only the douchebag was a woman. Can a douchebag be a woman? That would make her LITERALLY a douchebag, huh?
Anyway, she was snippy and all that, but my favorite part was when she was coaching/imploring the fish at the table to play better (despite her own mediocre play). Why do people continue to do this?
I left at midnight for my long drive home up $520. That's my best win ever.
I have lately approached running and other activities of mine as hobbies, that these things are supposed to be fun, and so far it seems to be working.
Apparently it's not just a good way to approach poker. It's a good way to approach life.